By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
A month after saying he would do it, Sheriff Marlin Gusman has not paid thousands of dollars to reserve deputies who have been working a security detail at the city’s auto impound lot since May.
“I feel like he lied to us,” said a deputy who originally contacted The Lens about this story. “We all got our hopes up when he said he would pay us, but he’s not really interested in us getting paid.”
The Lens is not identifying the deputy, who fears retaliation from Gusman for speaking out. Deputies serve at Gusman’s will and do not enjoy job protection.
More than a dozen reserve deputies claim Gusman owes them for back pay, with one claiming as much as $18,000, for working the detail over the past six months.
Gusman’s spokesman, Malcolm Ehrhardt, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who signed a contract to pay Gusman for the work on city property. As a result, it is not clear whether the payment holdup is Gusman’s responsibility or Landrieu’s.
The auto pound contract is one of two no-bid contracts Landrieu has signed with Gusman since May, at a time when tensions are high between Landrieu and Gusman.
Landrieu has convened an advisory committee to recommend an optimum size for the jail, injecting his administration in decisions that have long been the purview of the sheriff, an independently elected official. Gusman, though, has total control of at least $30 million for bricks-and-mortar criminal-justice projects that the city wants.
Gusman’s office took over the paid off-duty detail, worth as much as $450,000, from the New Orleans Police Department after criticism of the police department’s paid details program as an “aorta of corruption” by the U.S. Department of Justice.
As many as 40 deputies — some reserve officers, other full-time employees — provide security at three city sites, running the city as much as $35 an hour for the services.
Gusman began providing the services without a signed agreement with the city. In fact, the contract was signed only on Oct. 6, more than a week after The Lens began asking for it. Nevertheless, Gusman said he has been submitting invoices to the city since May.
“We didn’t have a contract in place before we got started as things usually happen. We’ve been negotiating back and forth on the contract,” Gusman said on Oct. 7. “I’m glad to say that the contract has now been signed and the invoices that we’ve been sending along will soon be paid, and we’ll be able to compensate the reserves that have been working this detail.”
Gusman did not say when the deputies would be paid, or apologize for the situation, but downplayed the concerns of the unpaid deputy last month, saying: “like anything, you’re always going to have some disgruntled people.”
Landrieu has not complied with a public-records request for documents that would show how much NOPD officers made working the same detail before May, or with a request for the addendum to the contract that explains the scope of Gusman’s work.